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Ultimate Arabic

Ultimate Arabic eds. Rania G. Hejazeen and Zvjezdana Vrzić

Primary Use: Textbook for learning Arabic on one's own
Format:35 chapters divided into seven possible parts:
  1. Dialogue
  2. Arabic writing and pronunciation
  3. Grammar and usage
  4. Vocabulary
  5. Cultural note
  6. Exercises
  7. Exercise key
Key:End of every chapter
Meant For:Very beginner


This book assumes the reader knows nothing about Arabic before beginning and is meant for the student who canít take Arabic classes and would like to teach him/herself how to speak and read Arabic. Not only does it include the alphabet, but it also shows how to write each letter Ė a feature not commonly found in most books. It also includes some helpful websites throughout the book regarding Arabic learning and culture.

As this book is meant to be used with or without a teacher, this book is fantastic for the person who really, truly knows nothing at all about Arabic, Arabic grammar, or English grammar. As this book is so easy to use and very clearly written, it could also be a very helpful supplement for those who are struggling with a particular concept in the classroom. However, this book sticks to the basics and isnít intended for learning advanced grammar or vocabulary.

The general structure of each chapter begins with a conversation written in Arabic. It is followed by a transliteration of the conversation, and then a translation in English. In some of the chapters this is followed by a writing and pronunciation section which helps to explain some of the conversation. Sometimes it uses linguistic schemes to describe pronunciation, for instance CaCaC to explain the verb فعل, which can be confusing for those students who havenít seen this kind of pronunciation scheme before.

This is followed by a grammar and usage section which is common to nearly every chapter. It explains things very clearly and simply, although it sometimes favors transliteration over the Arabic script to explain the concepts. It commonly uses examples to illustrate grammatical concepts.

A vocabulary section comes after the grammar and usage section. These lists include the vocabulary learned from the conversation at the beginning of the chapter as well as other new words introduced throughout the chapter. The words are not in any particular order, and seem to be organized roughly based on when they were introduced in the chapter. These lists also include a transliteration of each word.

After this, a cultural note is included. Seldom more than a couple of paragraphs, these notes are entertaining and informative, and even those who have been to the Middle East will learn a thing or two from them. Topics range from shopping in the Middle East to films in Egypt to hospitality in Saudi Arabia.

The chapter ends with various exercises. These exercises range from translation to matching to verb conjugation, and so on. The variety of exercises keeps them interesting, and they always are tied to the lessons learned in the chapter. The Arabic sentences used in the lesson are translated in the following answer key, which is helpful if the exercise isnít fully understood. However, since the answer key directly follows the exercises, it can be hard for the student not to peek at the answer as he/she works through the problems.

After every three to five chapters there is a review that includes grammar exercises, vocabulary exercises, and a reading passage. The key and a translation of the passage is included at the end of the review, as well as a list of vocabulary encountered in the reading passage. Students should be prepared to run across new vocabulary given in the reading sections that was not included in previous chapters; however, this should be looked at not as something negative but rather practice in reading a text where not all the words are known, which will be the case anywhere outside of the textbook. The new vocabulary is given in a list at the end of the review.

The first 15 chapters are devoted to Modern Standard Arabic and learning the basics of the language. After that, there are four sections of five chapters each that are devoted to a particular colloquial dialect. Chapters 16-20 are all about Egyptian Arabic, 21-25 is Iraqi Arabic, 26-30 is Lebanese Arabic, and 31-35 is Saudi Arabian Arabic. These chapters are written entirely in transliteration with no Arabic script, as colloquialisms are not commonly written out in Arabic, if ever.

These chapters on colloquial dialects give the very basics of each dialect, and can be invaluable for the student who is looking forward to going over to the Middle East and wanting to make him/herself understood in day-to-day situations. This is one of the few books, if not the only book, that give clear lessons in multiple dialects. The chapters follow the same pattern as the Modern Standard Arabic chapters, complete with exercises and cultural notes.

This book can come either with or without CDs. Although the book with CDs is far more expensive, the CDs are highly recommended for those students looking to study on his/her own. Descriptions of pronunciations are only so helpful, and some of the letters not found in the English language should be heard in order to successfully replicate the sounds.

This book is divided into the following Chapters/Lessons and Appendixes:

    Lesson 1: (Modern Standard Arabic): Hello!
    Lesson 2: (Modern Standard Arabic): Where Are You From?
    Lesson 3: (Modern Standard Arabic): What Do You Do?
          First Review (Modern Standard Arabic) Lesson 4: (Modern Standard Arabic): How Was the Wedding?
    Lesson 5: (Modern Standard Arabic): An Interview
    Lesson 6: (Modern Standard Arabic): Your Passport, Please.
    Lesson 7: (Modern Standard Arabic): At the Hotel
          Second Review (Modern Standard Arabic)
          Reading Passage I (Modern Standard Arabic)
    Lesson 8: (Modern Standard Arabic): How Much Do You Buy Dollars For?
    Lesson 9: (Modern Standard Arabic): How Much Is the Rent?
    Lesson 10: (Modern Standard Arabic): Thatís Too Expensive!
    Lesson 11: (Modern Standard Arabic): Enjoy Your Meal!
          Third Review (Modern Standard Arabic)
          Reading Passage II (Modern Standard Arabic)
    Lesson 12: (Modern Standard Arabic): At the Doctorís
    Lesson 13: (Modern Standard Arabic): At Work
    Lesson 14: (Modern Standard Arabic): Hello, Ahmed?
    Lesson 15: (Modern Standard Arabic): News from the Arabic Press
          Fourth Review (Modern Standard Arabic)
          Reading Passage III (Modern Standard Arabic)
    Lesson 16: (Egyptian Arabic): The Pyramids
    Lesson 17: (Egyptian Arabic): A Cruise on the Nile
    Lesson 18: (Egyptian Arabic): A Visit to the Egyptian Museum
    Lesson 19: (Egyptian Arabic): Housing Shortage in Cairo
    Lesson 20: (Egyptian Arabic): The Egyptian Super Bowl
          Fifth Review (Egyptian Arabic)
    Lesson 21: (Iraqi Arabic): Come, Letís Celebrate!
    Lesson 22: (Iraqi Arabic): To the Movies
    Lesson 23: (Iraqi Arabic): What Are You Going to Buy?
    Lesson 24: (Iraqi Arabic): Eid Preparations
    Lesson 25: (Iraqi Arabic): A Full Week!
          Sixth Review (Iraqi Arabic)
    Lesson 26: (Lebanese Arabic): Whatís the Problem?
    Lesson 27: (Lebanese Arabic): Feiruz
    Lesson 28: (Lebanese Arabic): Whatís Up?
    Lesson 29: (Lebanese Arabic): You Really Know How to Cook!
    Lesson 30: (Lebanese Arabic): Where Are You Going?
          Seventh Review (Lebanese Arabic)
    Lesson 31: (Saudi Arabic): Iíd Like to Introduce Myself
    Lesson 32: (Saudi Arabic): I Have Errands to Run
    Lesson 33: (Saudi Arabic): I Need to Rent an Apartment
    Lesson 34: (Saudi Arabic): What Is the Name of This Dish?
    Lesson 35: (Saudi Arabic): Jones Goes to the Market
          Eighth Review (Saudi Arabic)
    Appendix A: Verb Forms
    Appendix B: Active and Passive Participles
    Appendix C: First Conjugation of Weak Verbs
    Appendix D: Second Conjugation of Weak Verbs
    Appendix E: Third Conjugation of Weak Verbs
    Appendix F: First Conjugation of Hollow Verbs
    Appendix G: Conjugation of Doubled Verbs
    Appendix H: Demonstrative Pronouns/Adjectives
    Appendix I: Summary of Numbers
    Appendix J: 250 Basic Phrases in Egyptian, Iraqi, Lebanese, and Saudi Arabic

How to Use It

This book is meant to be worked through as a textbook from Chapter One through Chapter Fifteen. The lessons build on each other and gain in complexity as they go on.

After Chapter Fifteen, the book is divided into four sections, each covering a dialect. The student can skip ahead at this point to the dialect he/she would like to learn. However, it is not recommended to start with a dialect; the first fifteen chapters should be worked through first.

The appendixes are composed entirely of helpful charts on various subjects. These appendixes are cross-referenced in the chapters related to the topic.

Although its primary use is as a textbook, this book can also be used as a reference. There is an index of grammar topics in the back which indicates the chapter in which a particular topic is located.

There are also two dictionaries in the back, termed glossaries in the book, one in Arabic and one in English, including all the vocabulary terms learned in the book. The English-Arabic glossary is listed alphabetically in English. The Arabic-English glossary is also curiously listed alphabetically in English based on the transliteration scheme used. To look up أمريكي (American) for instance, one would look it up under Ďamrikií under A. Letters such as خ kh and ض D are located after their respective letters in the alphabet; thus خ kh comes after ك k and ض D comes after د d.

Once again, the use of the CDs along with the text is highly encouraged, particular for those students working without a teacher.


Hejazeen, Rania G. and Zvjezdana Vrzić, eds. Ultimate Arabic. New York: Living Language, 2006.